Data shows VA employees spent 1.1 million paid hours on union activities while veterans waited for medical care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced the Serve Veterans First Act; legislation that will ensure no Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee is paid for union or labor-organizing activities while veterans are still forced to endure wait times for VA medical care.

“The VA should not pay employees for union work while veterans are forced to wait for medical care,” said Flake. “The VA exists to serve veterans and their families, period. If that wasn’t apparent to some VA employees, the Serve Veterans First Act will make it crystal clear.”

In 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found VA employees used almost 1.1 million federal work hours for official union activities. That investigation also uncovered 346 VA employees who spent 100 percent of their working hours on union activities. These figures could be larger due to the fact that the VA does not consistently track official union time.

According the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the VA spent nearly $50 million on official union time in fiscal year 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.

At the same time, in 2014, a VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation uncovered long medical appointment wait times had contributed to the deaths of veterans. Within the Phoenix VA Healthcare System (PVAHCS) some veterans were found to have waited up to 300 days for critical appointments. In 2015, VA OIG reported 215 patients died with pending VA medical appointments, and determined delayed care contributed to the death of at least one veteran at the PVAHCS.

In 2016, VA OIG uncovered approximately 38,000 veterans were waiting for a medical appointment at the PVAHCS and nearly 5,000 veterans endured waits exceeding 30 days. VA employees at the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System were also found to have altered wait-time data for 400 orthopedic appointments and 600 urology appointments in an attempt to conceal long wait times.

Flake’s bill would prohibit the use of official time for labor-organizing activities by VA employees unless all veterans seeking hospital care or medical services from the VA are able to receive an appointment within the 30-day wait-time goal of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.

The Serve Veterans First Act is supported by the Goldwater Institute.   back...
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